Conflict for Ellison - loved and knew Negro folk music, jazz and spirituals but black schools and Tuskegee taught only classical - the 'canon' was important
Idea of Invisible Man is all about figuring out what you think rather than what people think you should think
Ellison struggled as a student at Tuskegee
Studied music under William Dawson, who pushed very hard- not a good relationship
Influenced by Morteza Sprague, chair of the English department- very canonical program - the classics
2nd book Shadow and Act dedicated to Sprague
Typical undergrad - got interested in sculpture, after studying music
New York - hangs out with Richard Wright
Hangs out in black and communist intellectual circles
Wright was the dude- he was super disciplined- he didn't just want to be a writer, he wanted to be great
Ellison was impressed by the amount of literature Wright had read
When nothing else works in the arts there's always writing!
Communists are giving black writers the chance to be published
Ellison starts IM in 1945
Portions published in 1947
IM published on April 14, 1952
National Book Award January 27,1953
a person can be paralyzed by early success
Ralph Ellisons creed:
- To think that a writer must think about his negroness is to fall into a trap
- Why can't writers be as concerned with quality as jazz musicians
- I wasn't, and am not, concerned with injustice but with art
Some people do NOT like him -his biographer Rampersad, for example
What he did with Invisible Man is what he WOULD have done had he been a composer, that is, create something new, as African Americans created the new, highly technical and demanding art of jazz
Ellison felt that his role was not to be a spokesperson for the black experience
He felt that jazz musicians were the highest expression of black art
America is red,white,blue, and black - referring to the 'sloe gin and ice cream' scene in the prologue, while listening to Louis Armstrong singing 'What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue'
Themes of the novel: African Americans and their sense of alienation
Why alienation was an important theme in the 1950s
How jazz and blues were art forms that expressed alienation while combating it -The importance of the INDIVIDUAL African American experience and the fight against sociological categories and definitions
Sociology is "dogmatic and arrogant...Quick to flaunt its vaunted empiricism as Truth."
Is Invisible Man a jazz novel?
Ellison felt that black people were prisoners of sociology- Ellison hated the discipline
Is it a jazz novel - in a way, yes- in the sense that he wants to go to art to explain black people- inspired by jazz music - if I could write something as good as count Basie, for example, then I will have achieved something
No getting around that Ellison was an elitist
Please comment below to amplify these notes - there was much I missed!